UN human rights expert addresses hate speech in South Korean politics

Posted on : 2019-08-22 15:46 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Victor-Madrigal Borloz distinguishes between free of expression and hateful language
Victor-Madrigal Borloz
Victor-Madrigal Borloz

“Hate speech doesn’t just mean expressing an opinion. It’s an act that causes people to be ostracized and beaten, to be kicked out of schools and fired from their jobs. Freedom of expression is very important in a democracy, but there’s obviously a limit to that. Hate speech crosses that line,” said Victor-Madrigal Borloz, the UN’s independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

When Borloz sat down with the Hankyoreh on Aug. 21, his brow furrowed a little. He’d just been told that some Korean politicians and religious leaders have made openly discriminatory remarks against LGBT people.

“That’s a very serious problem,” Borloz said, while stressing the role of the government. “Hate speech is something that the government has to step up and deal with.”

Borloz explained that it’s the government’s duty to “guarantee that the human rights of all people are not infringed and that “a key and fundamental principle” for achieving that is for politicians to refrain from hate speech.

This was the UN expert’s first visit to Asia. Borloz was in South Korea to attend the eighth conference of the Asian Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), which was held at the Seoul Dragon City Hotel, in Seoul’s Yongsan District, on Wednesday.

Borloz, a Costa Rican jurist, is one of several independent experts that are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to cover major aspects of human rights. His role is to research cases of violence and discrimination over sexual orientation and gender identity that occur around the world and to bring them to the awareness of the international community.

Borloz sent a letter to the South Korean government last year expressing his concerns about South Chungcheong Province’s repeal of a human rights ordinance that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.

When Borloz was told that some religious figures had taken the lead in discrimination, he remarked that “much violence and discrimination originate in fear of change.” He added that the social attitude that men and women should stick to their assigned gender and sexual roles stirs up “fears about changes in the power structure.”

The UN expert also firmly holds that the section of the Military Criminal Act that prohibits “indecent acts” in a manner discriminatory to homosexuals (Article 92-6) must be repealed. “This is discrimination against consensual sexual relationships in a portion of the population that has been singled out for having a specific sexual orientation. There’s no basis for such a clause anywhere in international law,” Borloz said.

“Some might say that this provision is designed to maintain military discipline, but there’s no evidence that it has any effect on discipline. Is there a legal provision prohibiting men and women from having sexual relations while they’re performing their military service?” Currently, sexual relations between soldiers of the opposite sex are subject to military discipline, but not criminal prosecution.

“Why do the two cases have to be different?” Borloz asked. “Such a provision only reinforces the stigma and discrimination.”

So what’s needed to create a society in which people aren’t discriminated for their sexual orientation? In the end, Borloz said, it comes down to “education and awareness.” That’s why Borloz stresses the need for legislation imposing a comprehensive ban on discrimination, with the caveat that he hasn’t officially recommended this to the South Korean government or finished his research on the situation in South Korea.

“Many people, including members of the legal and medical establishment, may still not sincerely believe that an individual’s gender identity deserves respect. The reason that laws are needed is to create an awareness of that respect. Another reason is to create the legal grounds for LGBT people to stand up and say they have the right to not be discriminated against,” Borloz said.

Borloz said he’d be happy to speak with people who engaged in hate speech. “I’d like to understand exactly why they’re opposed to human rights for LGBT people,” he explained. “After that, I’d like to share what I know with them and let them know what LGBT people experience on a daily basis, the truth of their lives. If anyone wants to talk to me, I’m always glad to listen.”

By Park Da-hae, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]


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